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Fiji Time: 1:38 AM on Friday 25 April

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Colati's tale of survival

Geraldine Panapasa
Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Joeli Colati is young, energetic and optimistic that life holds a brighter future for him even though he is HIV-positive.

The 23-year-old from Namara in Tailevu is not ashamed of his HIV status and courageously shares his experience about a journey he never intended to take in life.

"I have been living with HIV for the past two and a half years now since I was diagnosed in 2007," he said.

"I had very little knowledge about HIV while growing up. We had limited knowledge given to us in school and I never thought that one day I would have HIV."

He was 19 years old when he first had sex with his girlfriend. Oblivious to the consequences of having unprotected sex, Joeli said the thought of contracting HIV never crossed his mind.

"Some days down the line, I showed symptoms like skin rashes, boils on my body and constant high fever," he said.

"I had no idea it was HIV. I went to Tamavua Hospital for treatment. The doctors suspected I had the virus and they asked me if I could go through a voluntary confidential counselling and testing or what we call VCCT process."

He said it took two weeks for doctors to confirm he was HIV-positive.

"I was so scared and contemplated suicide because of the limited knowledge that I had on HIV," he said.

"The other thing that came to mind was how to tell my parents because I found out that HIV was a big issue to a family and society.

"I kept my status private for two months."

He decided to visit an STI clinic at the old Government pharmacy in Suva.

It was here that he met a member of the FJN+ organisation, a non-political, non-religious and non-racial organisation which aims to promote and improve the overall quality of the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS.

"She invited me to come to the organisation. When I joined, I could see the welcoming look on their faces and it was a relief," he said.

"I didn't feel like an outsider. We began to share our stories and I could see that some of them have been living with the virus for the past nine years.

"I decided it's better to disclose my status to help young people know that they too can get HIV."

He decided it was time to tell his parents. He called his mother and towards the end of their conversation, told her some things about HIV and AIDS.

"I asked her one question, what if one of your children is infected with the virus."

"She immediately replied, I will accept it. From that answer, I was encouraged to tell her."

Since revealing his status, Joeli said the support from his family and network members encouraged him to share his experience with other peers in the hope that it would raise awareness on the prevention of HIV and AIDS.